Stockholm A box full of pansies.

 

Stockholm Not quite ready to bloom.

 

Spring in Stockholm does not get much better than what it was here today. Combine that with the long Easter holiday weekend and I can definitely say that life is good. To take advantage of the weather and the day off, we had a picnic lunch in our local park Skinnarbacken today. We kept it simple: wine, cheese, salami, olives, tomatoes. Oh, and there were yummy chocolate chip cookies for dessert. (I made them for some friends and kept a few for us.)

This town always clears out for a holiday weekend and this one was no exception. But there were still a good number of people in the park today also having picnics, as well as BBQs, and sleeping, reading and playing guitar. The weather was just too good to resist–sunny again and warmish.

I meant to take photos in the park, but somehow got distracted. Instead, the photos here are from Mälarpaviljongen– a floating restaurant/bar on Kungsholmen. I met some friends there yesterday afternoon and couldn’t resist looking around the small garden store that’s also on the boat. The place was just bursting with spring.

 

Stockholm A bowl of lemons, with the lake in the background.

 

Stockholm Hanging pots.

 

Stockholm Flowers for sale.

 

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Kungstragarden An up-close view of the cherry blossoms.

 

Stockholm The fountain and blossoms at Kungsträdgården.

 

They’re back. The cherry blossoms at Kungsträdgården are blooming and casting their magic glow once again. And since today was the most gorgeous day we’ve had in Stockholm all year–it was sunny and 16 degrees c (about 60 F)–we had to get out and enjoy them. Robert and I spent the afternoon walking around and sitting on the steps by the fountain at Kungsträdgården. And all the rest of Stockholm was there too, taking pictures of the blossoms and themselves in front of the them.

It was glorious. Happy Easter everyone.

 

Stockholm I love the pink haze.

 

Stockholm Cameras were at the ready everywhere you looked.

 

Stockholm A pink walkway.

 

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Sydney The BBQ platter at Papi Chulos.

 

Papi Chulo Pickles were served on the side of the platter.

 

Growing up just across the Ohio river from the American south and with a southern mother, I’ve tasted a lot of fantastic southern cooking. So I was a little hesitant to say yes when our friends Jenny and Bill invited us to Papi Chulo, a BBQ restaurant in Sydney’s Manly Beach. It was the end of our time in Australia and what I really wanted was another good Asian meal like the one we had at Ms G’s.

But since Jenny and Bill always take us to amazing restaurants, I said yes. And I am so glad I did as we were not disappointed. Papi Chulo calls itself “the real deal American BBQ” and is located right on the wharf at Manly. On the menu are dishes from the deep American south like smoked pork ribs and grilled corn on the cob and also some classic South American dishes like ceviche and empanadas.

Together,  we shared ceviche of kingfish with jalapeño, celery, pineapple and crispy corn. And oh my, it was so good. We also had Dan Hong’s (not a) chopped salad – a light salad of raw and grilled vegetables. And then we went for it and had the Papi Chulo BBQ platter. It included rack of lamb ribs, wagyu brisket, chopped pork and pork belly and was served with pickles and bread. All the BBQ’d meats were done really, really well, even the pork. And we were all pretty happy with the BBQ sauce too.

If that wasn’t enough, we also had some really tasty curly fries. And there was dessert, too, including a warm chocolate chip cookie, with vanilla malt ice-cream, butterscotch sauce and macadamia brittle.

Yum. It was all amazingly well done. I even felt like I could be somewhere in the American south–with  big open to the water windows, ceiling fans, shutters and a casual atmosphere with good service. I felt a bit homesick.

 

Papi Chulo Dessert.

 

Papi Chulo The view from our table. A big thunderstorm came in while we were eating and we could see the lightning flash across the water.

 

 

 

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Sydney James in front of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

 

Sydney James and I at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Yes, that’s the Sydney Harbour Bridge just behind us– the view from the cafe terrace is amazing.

 

My friend James took me for a mini art tour in Sydney. We started at White Rabbit, a contemporary art gallery that he thought I would enjoy. He was right. This gallery is one of the best I’ve been to in a long time.

Founded by Kerr and Judith Nelson, the gallery focuses on contemporary Chinese art produced after 2000. The art is exciting. Thought provoking, really. And it gave James and I a lot to talk about. The show we saw is Reformation and it is still there. “The gallery explains that “China is home to a creative re-formation that is making waves around the world. It draws inspiration from classical calligraphy and the European masters, Taoism and the Internet, Shanghai street life and global business, kung fu and genetics.”

 

Sydney art MadeIn Company’s Play 201301 at White Rabbit.

 

 

White Rabbit While it looks like this man is getting an close-up view of the art, he is actually the art in Zhou Xiaohu’s You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know.

 

sydney There’s a wall of large paintings on the first floor of White Rabbit.

 

Sydney Also on the first floor of White Rabbit is a gift shop and tea room.

 

High on the list of installations that make you think is MadeIn Company’s Play 201301, a mixed media installation of leather, chains, spikes and torture devices done up as a series of gothic cathedrals and hanging from the ceiling. White Rabbit describes it is a “darkly humorous cliche-fest of leather, whips and chains that prompts questions about the lust for pleasure and where it may be taking us. Is erotic torture really analagous to religious exaltation?” I found it fascinating and disturbing in equal parts. Read what James has to say about it in his blog.

Given my art background, I was intrigued by Dong Yuan’s reconstructions of European master paintings. She does old master style oil paintings with a twist. So in her Repeated Illusions series, there’s a canvas painted with an empty vase in a dark, Dutch-masters style. Hanging above it on a clothes line from pegs are cut-out shapes of beautifully painted tulips.

And James and I were both fascinated by Zhou Xiaohu’s You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know, an installation piece of a two figures on either side of a wall, together with a video. Both men look astonishingly real–in fact, we both wondered why the one guy was standing so close to the video screen. There’s a lot more art, including installations, videos and scultpures, well worth checking out if you are in Sydney.

Our next stop was the Museum of Contemporary Art. And while we meant to look at the art, it had been so long since we had seen each other that we actually just had a glass of wine on the terrace overlooking Circular Quay and talked instead. The gallery has been renovated since I was last there and the space looks amazing, so I’ll have to check it out more next time. I did love the mural along the stairs as you enter from Circular Quay. It’s by Guan Wei and titled Coming to Australia.

 

MCA Sydney The entrance to the Museum of Contemporary Art has a beautiful mural by Guan Wei titled Coming to Australia.

 

Sydney The Wurrungwuri sculpture in the botanic gardens.

 

From there, we wandered through the botanic gardens to make our way to the Art Gallery of New South Wales for Art After Hours. While drinking champagne, we listened to a panel discussion with the student winners of ArtExpress 2014 and then saw the show. Many of the students had some rather profound things to say about their art and I was left impressed with the overall state of art in Sydney.

It was a whirlwind day, but oh so inspiring.

 

Sydney On the first floor of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, with the room set up for the art talk.

 

White Rabbit Bring on the reformation!

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outback Looking down at the waterhole in the Garden of Eden.

 

Kings Canyon The view from one side of the horseshoe-shaped canyon rim toward the other.

 

 

We found the Garden of Eden. While it wasn’t quite what I expected, it certainly was beautiful. But in an Outback kind of way.

Believe it or not, the Garden of Eden is in the middle of nowhere in Outback Australia. To find it, Robert and I took this amazing hike just outside of Alice Springs in Watarrka National Park. The Kings Canyon Rim Walk is a six kilometer loop and midway along the loop, we saw the Garden of Eden.

In it, there was a deep and dark waterhole surrounded by red sandstone cliffs. The scene was fringed with gum trees, palms, gigantic ferns and tiny frogs were everywhere. Once we had the place to ourselves, all shapes and sizes of birds came out.

Signs at the start of the trail warn: don’t risk your life. If you start out after 9 am and the temperature is going to be above 40 degrees C (104F), you are prohibited from doing the walk. Temperatures were nearing that as we finished the hike and yes, it was hot. Like, fry an egg on the rock hot. But it was so dry, I was never dripping with sweat.

The hike begins with a steep climb that I found out later is locally called heart attack hill. The start is definitely a workout–it’s a straight up climb along the rocks. But once I reached the top rim of the canyon, the climb was well worth it because from then on, the views were ever-changing and spectacular.

Along with the magnificent red sandstone cliffs there are areas of lush vegetation and waterholes. I was surprised by how much the vegetation changed during the hike and by how many bridges and staircases help you navigate along the more difficult areas. But perhaps the biggest surprise was that all of this is in the middle of the arid, red center of Australia.

 

Kings Canyon A “selfie” in the canyon.

 

Kings Canyon The waterhole was cool and dark.

 

Kings Canyon The Garden of Eden.

 

Kings Canyon The sandstone cliffs. Kings Canyon Hike warnings.

 

 

Garden of Eden One of the tiny frogs landed on Robert’s camera.

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Giles Road The beautiful desert landscape.

 

Giles Road The long red road.

 

I’d forgotten just how much those flies can drive you crazy in the Outback. But it didn’t take long to remember how persistently annoying they are. As soon as I stepped outside the car, flies by the million would be trying to work their way into my nose, ears, eyes, mouth and wherever else they could find an entry point. Those persistent pests were relentlessly landing on the new scab on my leg, digging at it, making me want to yell in frustration.

So I broke down and got one of those crazy tourist fly nets to put over my hat. I felt ridiculous. But I was so happy to not be battling the flies on my face at least. It may now be my most favorite Outback accessory.

As much as the flies make me nuts, I love the Outback. It’s become a bit of a tradition for Robert and I to spend some time in the middle of nowhere while we are in Australia and this trip was no exception. This time, we flew into Alice Springs, hired a 4WD truck and hit the dirt roads. As we’ve been to Uluru before, we wanted to go somewhere different and get off the usual tourist track. Taking the Ernest Giles Road from Kings Canyon to the Stuart Highway fit the bill perfectly.

The road is 100 kilometers of some of the reddest dirt and sand dunes I’ve ever seen. We did not pass or see one other car, but we kicked up our own cloud of dust as we traversed this often very rough and corrugated road.  We did see a few camels, and my hands got sweaty more than once as we made our way across the rutted and often sandy road. It was just what we were looking for in terms of getting away from it all.

 

Giles road Watch out for camels, gravel and the slippery road.

 

Giles Road Warning!

 

Fly net The best tourist souvenir ever?

 

 

 

 

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Australian wool “The big merino” is on the road from Sydney to Canberra in Goulburn and is there to celebrate Australia’s wool industry.

 

big merino The merino is apparently well known for its back view.

 

When I took my socks off to shower, there was still sand on my toes. It was also in my suitcase. But I didn’t mind.

After five weeks, we finally arrived home to Stockholm this morning. To do so, it took three flights, about 35 hours of travel and crossing too many time zones. When we landed, it was zero degrees c (32F).  When we left Sydney Tuesday, it was 28 degrees c (82.4). That’s a big change for my body to understand. But it is sunny here at least.

In Sydney Tuesday, we stayed on the beach at Manly until we absolutely had to leave for the airport. (That’s why the sand was still around.)

Sydney In the morning at Manly Beach.

 

 

This was our first trip back to Australia since Robert’s Dad died at the end of June 2012. Since we were only there for a few days, it was not much of a visit. We missed seeing him, I have to say. But it was wonderful to be back and to see family and friends.

As far as travels, we spent time in the Outback, the Barrier Reef, Sydney, Brisbane, Young, Canberra and the Garden of Eden. (True.) We saw kangaroos, camels and dingoes, had to stop for cow roadblocks, drove on some crazy outback roads, viewed the big merino and lots of art, consumed an incredible amount of  fantastic food including camel and kangaroo, beer and wine, and just had some amazing times.

Trust me, I have lots of good photos and stories to share. But for now, I need to stop.

Australian food The camel burger.

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shark One of the many black-tipped sharks I swam with at Heron Island.

 

As our boat pulled up to the island, there were sharks surrounding us in every direction. About a dozen black-tipped and white-tipped reef sharks welcomed our arrival to Heron Island. Growing up in the age of Jaws, I could not help but to be just a little intimidated by all those fins below me.

But despite that, I still snorkeled in that very same harbor the very next day.  And yes, those sharks were around. Was I nervous? Yes, I must admit that their presence did make me breathe a bit harder through my snorkel. But those sharks were  gorgeous. And they were not at all interested in having me for lunch. There were plenty of other fish in the sea for those guys.

This time on the reef, Robert and I also saw many more green turtles than we have on our last trips. Apparently, it has been a big nesting season. And every night, we would see turtles making their way up over the reef rocks and sand to lay their eggs. During the late afternoon, turtle hatchlings would try to make their way to the Coral Sea. And when we snorkeled, they would swim with us. These giant dinosaurs are surprisingly graceful swimmers.

We both always love taking part in the extras that the Heron Island Resort provides, including the reef walks and a tour of the research station. (Robert first came to the island while he was in university, and spent many weeks researching the coral for the station.)  On the reef walk, we went out at low tide to see the coral, sea cucumbers, fish, clams, sea stars and other creatures that are exposed as the ride moves out. I am always blown away by what we find–the colors and variety of coral, fish and other creatures are almost too stunning to believe.

Heron Island Our tour guide Sarah shows us some of the reef dwellers. Heron Island Clams came in all sorts of spectacular color combinations.

 

Heron Island A sea star.

 

Heron Island A soft coral on the reef.

 

Heron Island An up-close view of a sea hare.

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Heron Island Heading out for a snorkel directly from the island.

 

Heron Island Robert and I soaked up the sun as long as we could on the last day. The boat behind us was waiting to take us back to the mainland.

 

When we stepped off the terrace from our room, we were on the beach. At high tide, it only took a dozen or so steps to get my feet in the water. We went to bed at night to the sound of the Coral Sea tide crashing its way back onto the beach.

By day, we snorkeled and swam in the warm, turquoise-colored waters. We walked through forests of pandanus and pisonia. In the evening, we walked the white sandy beach looking for green turtle hatchlings.

For five and a half days, we stayed on Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef, 72 kilometers from the mainland. As the island is a coral cay, we could snorkel over gloriously colored coral and fish directly off the beach to see the mutton birds and noddy terns. It was paradise and we both loved it. The whole time, I kept humming Pharell Williams’ Happy: “Clap Along if you know what happiness is to you. Because I’m happy…”

Oh yeah I’m happy that I got to go back to one of my favorite places on earth.

(Stay tuned. I have lots more adventures and photos to share of snorkeling with sharks, checking out sea cucumbers and coral, brown boobys, sunsets and more.)

 

Great Barrier Reef Seeing the “Welcome to Heron Island” sign still makes me happy, even though it was my third time to visit.

 

Heron Island Kayaks on the beach.

 

Heron Island The first views of Heron when we arrived on the boat.

 

Heron Island A little champagne on the beach outside our room.

 

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Australia The iconic Sydney Opera House.

 

Sydney The Harbour Bridge at night.

Over the years on this blog, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love this city. I’ve been here more than a dozen times, but always find something new to see, do and enjoy.

Sydney has a gorgeous location, great food, lots to do. And I could go on. But I won’t. Instead, I will just share a few night views around Circular Quay. Lovely, huh?

Sydney Robert and I take a “selfie” in front of the bridge.

 

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